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Q-Tip Says His New Kennedy Center Role Helps 'Institutionalize Hip-Hop'

Q-Tip of A Tribe Called Quest performs onstage at FYF Fest in July in Los Angeles.
Christopher Polk
Getty Images for FYF
Q-Tip of A Tribe Called Quest performs onstage at FYF Fest in July in Los Angeles.

One of the most influential figures in hip-hop will now take a lead role in one of the nation's most prestigious cultural institutions.

Q-Tip, along with Phife Dawg, Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Jarobi White, formed A Tribe Called Quest in the early '90s. The hip-hop collective introduced smooth beats and sharp social commentary inspired by the group's friendship and the issues of the time.

Last year, the group released what would turn out to be its final album, We Got It from Here ... Thank You 4 Your Service, after the death of Phife Dawg.

But now Q-Tip, the group's unofficial frontman, has a new role as the first artistic director for hip-hop culture at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.

Q-Tip tells NPR's Michel Martin that the new position will help "institutionalize hip-hop."

Interview Highlights

On remembering Phife Dawg

It's been difficult, but it's good because we are here and it's been a lot of growth through adversity. Once we realize you can get past it, it shapes and builds your character. And that's something that is more than a silver lining, it's a blessing. So although we have our emotional bouts with it as humans, it's been of value, of good value.

On his new role at the Kennedy Center

I think it's a great opportunity for this country in a lot of different ways. A historic institution for arts such as the Kennedy Center that they would want to, in so many words, institutionalize hip-hop because for so long the creators and the practitioners of the form were looked at as degenerates, uneducated hoodlums, you know saying provocateurs, cop killers, rapers, like all these different labels. So through all the black and blues, to able to have the Kennedy Center wrap up hip-hop and claim it, like jazz before it and blues before it and so forth as a part of a true American art form to kind of investigate, not only the rich foundation of hip-hop and its beginnings, but it helps people who may not be from this world to understand truly the complexity — what black complexity is.

It would be great to see the Mormon family from Utah running into a family from Harlem, African-American family, and they both are looking at something or sharing something about hip-hop whether it be like a Tupac display or a Grandmaster Flash DJ mix, and they see that they have something in common. The church of the arts, it's a great idea.

On the current political climate

One could really say given the climate that the lines have been clearly drawn, and there are sides now, like clear sides. People are saying well I'm here, rocking with the white supremacists, wall-building, pussy-grabbing, name-calling, that's my squad, who's your squad? There's a clear line drawn so some people may just be beyond it.

I mean look, we are talking about our president, we got to talk about the elephant in the room, he's so polarizing that he and his wife had to kind of decline the invitation to the center, which is something since its inception, I believe since '73 or '74, that every sitting president happily went to because the arts is, it's our biggest export in this country. It's not oil, it's not apples, it's not cotton, it's entertainment in all forms — media, sports, music. So when you have something as prestigious as the Kennedy Center that's on your same lot and you're that polarizing that you would have to excuse yourself from that — it's real query.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
Dustin DeSoto
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